Mystery lingers over source of '45 minute' claim

By Paul Lashmar

Independent on Sunday   27 July 2003

Mystery still surrounds the source for the claim that the Iraqi army could deploy WMD within 45 minutes of being ordered to do so. The claim appears four times in the September dossier.

"Intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so," the dossier boldly states. It is probably the most compelling piece of "evidence" that swung Parliament and the public behind the decision to go to war. It is now known that the source of this information was one man - a single source. It is now only too apparent that the claim, or at least the interpretation, is wrong. There were no WMD readily available to the Iraqi military, in 45 minutes or otherwise. So, why has the Government not produced the source to explain its basis?

It is known that the source was a brigadier general who had been an MI6 - not CIA - agent for up to three years. According to evidence given to the Commons foreign affairs committee, MI6 had trouble contacting him to double-check his 45 minutes claim for inclusion. Nor was the claim as straightforward as presented. It is understood that Dr Kelly told BBC reporter Susan Watts that the claim was inserted in the dossier at the "behest of Downing Street". "It was a statement that was made and it got out of all proportion."

Dr Kelly told contacts that what the source had actually said was that the Iraqis had created a command, control and communications system (C3) that would enable Saddam to communicate with regional military commanders within 45 minutes when authorising the use of WMD. This is not deployment of WMD.

There is doubt whether the source had first-hand knowledge. It has been suggested he was told it by a senior Iraqi officer. So why is he being hidden? MI6 is believed to have "exfiltrated" him immediately after the war. He might be in a safe house in Baghdad or even in leafy Virginia Water by now.

The question also arises as to whether this source was involved in joint CIA/MI6 operations to bribe senior Iraqi officers not to fight during the invasion. Was he being paid for information? Or was he supplying it because of revulsion for the Saddam regime? Or was he settling a score with Saddam's regime? Why did he take such an enormous risk? Whatever the source's motives, it would have been important in assessing the quality of his information and therefore how right the Government was to give it such prominence. Word in intelligence circles is that he was paid. So were our intelligence services rooked? Should the source be asked to appear at the Hutton inquiry or in front of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee? Or do he and MI6 have something to hide?